GKI Thinks Big: Complexity was the new normal. And then COVID-19 hit.

April 27, 2020

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The challenges we face in the world are complex, human and dynamic.  This is more poignant today as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.  We are seeing the interconnectedness of things and watching as our economic systems, health systems, environmental systems, and political systems interact as we try to respond effectively. We are experiencing how the actions we each take as individuals can either strengthen our resilience or make us all more vulnerable.  And we are all working to adapt as dynamics change rapidly.  COVID-19 is a global experience and one that will impact everyone on the planet, every organization, and every community. It has exposed the tensions, inequities, and deep vulnerabilities that we have yet to address as a global society.

The challenges we have faced up to this point – climate change, food security, poverty, biodiversity protection – may not seem as urgent as COVID-19 does at this moment.  But these challenges increase our vulnerability in times like this.  To address them, we don’t just need new solutions and incremental changes. We need a total transformation to redesign the systems we have built: a redesign to better align our human systems with human values such as justice, compassion, care, and harmony. And we need a critical mass of individuals to lead this transformation.

As activists, entrepreneurs, funders, policy-makers, front-line health workers, researchers, social workers, public servants – we lead.  Whatever sector or industry we work within – we lead.  Whether we work within our local communities or at global scale – we lead. This transformation must be driven by how we show up and the actions we each take, big and small.   

Now is the time to practice new ways of leading and shaping the systems around us. To learn to:   

  • Embrace complexity by engaging in active sense-making. Recognizing patterns – how the parts relate to each other and the whole across boundaries, silos, and barriers (real or perceived)  
  • Engage in empathy-driven human interactions. Facilitate connections and collaborations that activate and mobilize the forces for positive change (while minimizing the forces of resistance)
  • Foster values-driven innovation across the system, at multiple levels, and in connection with others
  • Act with fortitude, agility, humility and curiosity to learn to adapt to changing dynamics

If our current moment is teaching us anything, it’s that we cannot go back to business as usual. We cannot address our societal challenges with old models. We need to move beyond reductionist, technical, and linear approaches to problem-solving, command and control leadership approaches, and competitive behaviors.  

Our eyes and hearts are open as we bear witness to the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We see the need for holistic, integrated and generative solutions to be resilient in this challenging time. And we’re seizing the opportunity to create a new and better system. Now is the time to strengthen our resolve to lead the transformation, staring resolutely in the face of complexity, together.